Exploring ideas and engaging in conversation

Author: Ellie Harrison (Page 1 of 2)

How Historical Costuming Changed My View of History

Sometime in early 2020, I came across a video that changed how I approach history. In this video, costumer Bernadette Banner was constructing an Edwardian walking skirt to wear around her native NYC. While at the time I had no idea what a bias was, center seams, or really any idea how to sew beyond simple embroidery, I found myself drawn to this world of history as she narrated. Not only was she showing her reference patterns, she explained how women would wear these long garments, as well as how to read clothing for the history and culture of the time. There was so much to learn about the textiles that went into extant garments and how the quality of the textile was so important. Clothing had more Easter eggs than a Taylor Swift music video, and honestly the approach to dressing made more sense than our modern ways. The more I watched Banner, the more I was exposed to other historians such as Abby Cox. She truly opened the door to understanding how people in history were actually exceptionally smart, even if there were no iPads or internet. 

We often think about people in history as being stupid, purely because they didn’t know the same things we know today. George Washington died just before the first dinosaur bones were discovered, germ theory didn’t exist when the plague hit, and people didn’t bathe in tubs for a long time. But this doesn’t mean that people were dumb and dirty. For example, the outer layers of a woman’s clothing was often re-worn several times before it was washed. And it was not because the fabric was like your jeans and you were concerned about the fabric stretching or the dye coming out. There was strategy

Instead of having your nice expensive garments touching your body and getting sweat and oils on it, multiple underlayers would be worn. Depending on the period in history, there would be a lightweight linen shift or chemise and some form of support garment for the bust. In the middle ages it was a kirtle, in the 1700s it was a pair of stays, and in the 1800s it was a corset. These garments were designed to provide support, take pressure off the back, and give clothing smoother lines. There was no need to suck in your stomach or do extra ab workouts!

These underlayers not only protected you from the outside, they also protected your clothing from you. Linen and cotton (natural fibers) are exceptionally breathable and dry quickly when the wearer is sweating or exposed to more heat. Underlayers like the shift would be rotated out daily and washed consistently. Things like the stays or corset would be washed less frequently, but still more often than the outer layers. If you think about it, women at this time washed their undergarments more frequently than most women today do. (seriously, ask a friend how often she washes her bras.) 

In the 1700s, women didn’t wash their hair as often (maybe once a week or two), but they used the equivalent of a hair mask and dry shampoo to protect the hair from the world and handle oils. Cox went as far as to spend a year doing this method, and documented how her hair felt mostly the same as it did with her modern hair routine. She also did an in depth exploration into shapewear and how if women in history didn’t match the shape of the day, they could modify their clothing to look like they had a tiny waist or a flat chest or whatever was en vogue for the time. Women weren’t pressured to change their bodies like they are now. If you were pregnant or bloated, you could let out your corset. Trying to attract a man at a ball? Add more hip padding so your waist looks snatched. Fashions would stay on trend for years at a time, garments were made to last, and if you are following along and counting, this means that women only needed a few items of clothing to last through their whole adulthood. 

I would not call myself a stylish person by any means, but I love watching historical sewing videos. Not only have they given me perspective on how slow fashion has worked throughout history, they’ve changed how I think of people in history. They may not have known about germs or dinosaurs, but they were smart and strategic – down to their undergarments.

Museum Job Roundup 1/15/24

Welcome to the weekly roundup! We do our best to collect the latest job openings and welcome submissions from the community. For more opportunities, we recommend the following databases:

Featured Job

Public Engagement Manager at The Baltimore Museum of Industry

Full Time

The Baltimore Museum of Industry seeks a confident, ambitious, and creative Public Engagement Manager to join our team and help us realize the vision of our newly created strategic plan and support the museum’s updated mission – to interpret the diverse and significant human stories behind labor and innovation in Baltimore, cultivate a sense of belonging, and to inspire visitors to think critically about the intersection of work and society.


We’re looking for someone full of ideas, willing to try new things and take risks. You’ll join a team of committed, passionate professionals focused on embracing bold and innovative strategies that bring more people to the museum and position the BMI as the leading discussion platform around the past, present, and future of work in Baltimore.

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For the Museumgoer With SAD

I’m sure that everyone has adapted (maybe begrudgingly so) to the 5pm darkness and the beginnings of coat weather, but what makes me a fan of this time of year is the cozy spots to curl up in and the ease of making indoor plans. This is all fun and exciting in the beginning….

 

…until Seasonal Affective Disorder hits. 

 

Every year, humans of the northern hemisphere experience less sunlight in the winter and find their moods lower as a result. While this time of year is marketed as a time of joy and cheer, sometimes it can be hard to access with upcoming deadlines, exams, or just general end of year chaos. In short, sometimes we all need a good cold weather cry. 

 

Remember when I said I once cried in the Met? I was a sophomore in college in NYC and had a very rough week – deadlines were coming up, there was friend and family drama, it felt like the world was closing in. So I went to the place that made me happiest in the city: the Degas gallery in the Met. But somehow even the ballerinas couldn’t cheer me up. I wandered the galleries on that quiet Thursday morning until I found myself in front of a giant stone Buddha. I sat on the bench in front of it and sobbed for a few minutes. A guard came over and we discussed art and why I loved museums so much. Because of that day, I decided that I wanted to teach in museums and help others to find the same comfort that I find in them. 

 

Since that day, I have been compiling a list of top spots to let it out in museums I have visited, as well as spots friends have told me about. This is one iteration of that list, primarily based here in MA. Places that are free are marked with an asterisk. 


  • The New England Aquarium

It’s no Mystic, but it has plenty of dim lighting and enough constant chatter that a sob here and there won’t be too out of the realm of reason for other patrons. If you go on a weekend, odds are there is a small child crying somewhere in the building. You’ll have a buddy!

  • Museum of Fine Arts

There are so many nooks and crannies in this place that would be perfect for a little cry. My personal recommendation is the Shapiro Courtyard or the bathrooms just down the stairs from there. The mummy gallery is also a good spot – low lighting, a macabre vibe, and fewer people. 

  • Paul Revere House

Maybe I’m biased because I work there, but I find the site comforting. The house has seen hundreds of years of foot traffic, and there is a great classroom on the ground floor of the visitor’s center that doesn’t see much traffic and can offer a space out of sight for the private breakdown.

  • Peabody Essex Museum

This is one cool museum with a lot going on. Personally, I would recommend the maritime galleries. There are little pods where you can watch a video about a specific piece and are just private enough. The first gallery also has a great soundscape and fun lights. If you are someone who loves boats, this is a great place to cry in a super cool town. Bonus points if you go at this time of year when Salem is quiet.

  • Harvard Art Museums*

With a great cafe (try the lemonade!) and thousands of years of history and art, you can’t go wrong with HAM. There are many galleries with audio installations, but my personal favorite quiet place is in gallery 1610 where there is a big golden ball in the middle of the space. There’s something calm and contemplative about being in a space with several depictions of Buddha.

  • Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

It may seem a bit off the beaten path, but hear me out. Yes, this is a busy and occasionally cramped museum. However, there are 3 spots I would say could be good for a cry. The first is the hallway where the bathrooms are in the older building. The second is by the coat check in the new building, and the third is the back part of the contemporary gallery space. Often this is where the museum poses questions to visitors about their interpretations of the works on display.

  • USS Constitution Museum

Something about boats, revolution, and the inevitable earworm of “My Heart Will Go On” make this a good spot. The wind can get you pretty hard when you stand on deck. You’re not crying, the Boston weather is just mean. 

  • New England Ski Museum*

Located at the base of Cannon Mountain in Franconia, NH, this volunteer-run establishment is just yards from the oldest aerial tramway in the country. Go see some snow, maybe take a ride to the top and have a Sunday morning cinnamon roll at 4080’. The exhibits in the museum are pretty cool too!

  • Mystic Seaport

There are so many places to go and buildings that are just fun. You can learn about maritime industries, build a boat out of wood scraps, or just play pretend in the apothecary. Lots of great private spots, and some cool things to hear about – the admission will certainly convince you to spend a day there. 

  • Addison Gallery of American Art*

Every few months, the museum changes all of its galleries and exhibition spaces. There is a great library with a book ladder a la Beauty and the Beast (tragically it doesn’t move like it does in the movies) and some comfy green chairs that migrate throughout the galleries. Currently they are in the largest upstairs gallery. The town of Andover is also very walkable and has several fun little spots to eat, some greenery to experience, and some great small businesses. 



Museum Job Roundup 11/27/23

Welcome to the weekly roundup! We do our best to collect the latest job openings and welcome submissions from the community. For more opportunities, we recommend the following databases:

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Museum Job Roundup 11/6/23

Welcome to the weekly roundup! We do our best to collect the latest job openings and welcome submissions from the community. For more opportunities, we recommend the following databases:

Featured Job

Collections Manager at The Bass Museum (Miami Beach, FL)

Full Time, yearly salary $50-60k

The Bass, Miami Beach’s contemporary art museum, seeks a full-time Collections Manager. The Collections Manager is a key member of the Curatorial and Exhibitions team supporting the documentation, care, and presentation of the permanent collection and loans for temporary exhibitions. Key responsibilities include the management of transportation of works of art, applying experience with insurance papers, contracts, and associated legal documentation. The Collections Manager communicates efficiently with a range of constituents at the Museum and beyond while multitasking responsibilities and commitments. The Collections Manager will apply best museum practices for archiving, storing, and maintaining works of art. For a full description of this position and applicaiton information, please see the listing on our website: https://thebass.org/jobs/

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